Antigone Summary

Polyneices and , two brothers leading opposite sides in Thebes' civil war, have both been killed in battle. , the new ruler of Thebes, has declared that Eteocles will be honored and Polyneices disgraced. The rebel brother's body will not be sanctified by holy rites, and will lay unburied to become the food of carrion animals. andIsmene are the sisters of the dead brothers, and they are now the last children of the ill-fated . In the opening of the play, Antigone brings outside the city gates late at night for a secret meeting: Antigone wants to bury Polyneices' body, in defiance of Creon's edict. Ismene refuses to help her, fearing the death penalty, but she is unable to dissuade Antigone from going to do the deed by herself.

Creon enters, along with the Chorus of Theban Elders. He seeks their support in the days to come, and in particular wants them to back his edict regarding the disposal of Polyneices' body. The Chorus of Elders pledges their support. A Sentry enters, fearfully reporting that the body has been buried. A furious Creon orders the Sentry to find the culprit or face death himself. The Sentry leaves, but after a short absence he returns, bringing Antigone with him. Creon questions her, and she does not deny what she has done. She argues unflinchingly with Creon about the morality of the edict and the morality of her actions. Creon grows angrier, and, thinking Ismene must have helped her, summons the girl. Ismene tries to confess falsely to the crime, wishing to die alongside her sister, but Antigone will have none of it. Creon orders that the two women be temporarily locked up.

Haemon, Creon's son and Antigone's fiance, enters to pledge allegiance to his father. He initially seems willing to obey Creon, but when gently tries to persuade his father to spare Antigone, the discussion deteriorates and the two men are soon bitterly insulting each other. Haemon leaves, vowing never to see Creon again.

Creon decides to spare Ismene and to imprison Antigone in a cave. She is brought out of the house, and she bewails her fate and defends her actions one last time. She is taken away, with the Chorus expressing great sorrow for what is going to happen to her.

Teiresias, the blind prophet, enters. He warns Creon that the gods side with Antigone. Creon accuses Teiresias of being corrupt, and Teiresias responds that because of Creon's mistakes, he will lose one child for the crimes of leaving Polyneices unburied and putting Antigone into the earth. All of Greece will despise him, and the sacrificial offerings of Thebes will not be accepted by the gods. The Chorus, terrified, asks Creon to take their advice. He assents, and they tell him that he should bury Polyneices and free Antigone. Creon, shaken, agrees to do it. He leaves with a retinue of men to help him right his previous mistakes. The Chorus delivers a choral ode on/to the god Dionysis, and then a Messenger enters to tell them that Haemon has killed himself. , Creon's wife and Haemon's mother, enters and asks the Messenger to tell her everything. The Messenger reports that Haemon and Antigone have both taken their own lives. Eurydice disappears into the palace.

Creon enters, carrying Haemon's body. He understands that his own actions have caused these events. A Second Messenger arrives to tell Creon and the Chorus that Eurydice has killed herself. With her last breath, she cursed her husband. Creon blames himself for everything that has happened, and, a broken man, he asks his servants to help him inside. The order he valued so much has been protected, and he is still the king, but he has acted against the gods and lost his child and his wife as a result. The Chorus closes by saying that although the gods punish the proud, punishment brings wisdom.

About Antigone

The specific circumstances surrounding the origin of drama were a puzzle even in the 4th century BC. Greek drama seems to have its roots in religious celebrations that incorporated song and dance. By the 6th century BC, Athenians had transformed a rural celebration of Dionysis into an urban festival with dancing choruses that competed for prizes. An anonymous poet came up with the idea of having the chorus interact with a masked . Later, transformed the art by using two masked actors, each playing different parts throughout the piece, essentially inventing Greek drama as we know it. With two actors and a chorus, complex plots and conflicts could be staged as never before, and the poets who competed in the festival were no longer writing elaborate hymns, but true plays. Athens was the only Greek city-state where this art form evolved; the comedies, tragedies, and dramas handed down to us from the period, although labeled generically as "Greek," are in fact all Athenian works.

After the defeat of the Persians in a decisive campaign (480-479 BC), Athens emerged as the superpower of the independent Greek city-states, and during this time the drama festival, or the Dionysia, became a spectacular event. The Dionysia lasted four to five days, and the city took the celebrations seriously. Prisoners were released on bail, and most public business was suspended. Roughly 10,000 free male citizens, along with their slaves and dependents, watched plays in an enormous outdoor theater that could seat 17,000 spectators. On each of three days, the Athenians were treated to three tragedies and a satyr play (a light comedy on a mythic theme) written by one of three pre-selected tragedians, as well as one comedy by a comedic playwright. The trilogies did not have to be extended dramas dealing with the same story, although often they were. At the end of the festival, the tragedians were awarded first, second, and third prize by the judges of Dionysis.

Although Antigone is grouped together with Oedipus the King and as a trilogy (sometimes called The Theban Plays or The Oedipus Trilogy), the three works were actually not written as a trilogy at all. It would therefore be totally erroneous to say that Antigone presents some kind of "final word" on the themes of the trilogy. In fact, although Antigone deals with the events that happen chronologically last in the myth, the play was produced in 441 BC - some 14 or 15 years before Oedipus the King, and a full 36 years before Oedipus at Colonus. was clearly fascinated by the Oedipus myth, but inconsistencies in the events of the three plays seem to indicate that he wrote each play as a separate treatment of the story.

For modern readers, the Chorus may be the most alien element of the play. Greek drama was not meant to be what we would consider "naturalistic." It was a highly stylized art form: actors wore masks, and the performances incorporated song and dance. The Chorus delivers much of the exposition and expounds poetically on themes, but it is still meant to represent a group of characters. In the case of Antigone, the Chorus is constituted by the Theban elders, old and powerful citizens of the city who watch and comment on the action. It interacts with the actors, and in Antigone the Chorus intercedes at a crucial point near the end of the play.

Consistent with the norms of Greek drama, Antigone is not divided into acts or scenes. The action flows uninterrupted from beginning to end. However, time elapses in non-naturalistic fashion: at certain points, from reports of what has happened offstage, it is clear that a great amount of time is meant to have passed even though only a few minutes have passed for the audience. In general, as noted by Aristotle, the action of most Greek tragedies is confined to a 24-hour period. In his influential Poetics, Aristotle sets guidelines for the form of tragedy using Oedipus the King as his ideal model. Tragedy is usually concerned with a person of great stature, a king or nobleman, who falls because of hubris, or pride. There are unities of time, place, and, most importantly, action. Action may be thought of simply as motive or "movement of spirit": in Oedipus the King the action for most of the play is "find ' killer and stop the plague in Thebes." The action in Antigone is "preserve rightness and order in Thebes." Antigone is a strange case because the "movement-of-spirit" arguably comes from two directions: Antigone and Creon are both championing what is right, but they define rightness through different sets of values. Key elements include the moments of reversal and recognition, although not every tragedy has these moments. Reversal means a great and unexpected turn in events when the action veers around and becomes its opposite. Antigone experiences no reversal, but Creon does: at the Chorus' prodding, he finally backs down and listens to the advice he has been given, turning against the preservation of the kind of order he cherishes. Recognition means that a character gains sudden and transformative understanding of himself and the events he has experienced, moving from ignorance to knowledge. In Antigone, Creon finally recognizes that he has been misguided and that his actions have led to the death of his wife and son. Ideally, according to Aristotle, the reversal and the recognition hit at the same instant, as they do in Oedipus the King. While the Poetics are indispensable for the student of Greek drama - and, indeed, drama in general - Aristotle's theories should not be a straitjacket. Aristotle's guidelines make it difficult to appreciate the genius of , and by the standards of the Poetics, the great tragedies of Shakespeare would be failures. Aristotle is writing from a particular time and place, and he is also speaking from a very specific artistic sensibility. He may be the first word on , but he is not the last.

In this ClassicNote, the quotations and the line numbers given with the citations match the lines in the David Grene translation; the reader is encouraged to look at different translations of Antigone to get a feel for the striking difference that a translator can make.

Character List

Antigone Antigone is both the daughter and the sister of Oedipus (since he married his own mother). Now that Oedipus and his brothers are dead, Antigone and Ismene are the last of the family. After her father went into exile, Antigone and her sister were raised in the house of Creon. Her brothers Polyneices and Eteocles were casualties in a brutal war for power, each brother dying by the other's hand. Creon has declared that Eteocles will be honored with burial since he was a defender of Thebes, while Polyneices' body is left to the vultures and dogs. It is this edict that drives Antigone to defy the state, since she believes her brother Polyneices deserves the same treatment as Eteocles. Some critics see Antigone as too self-righteous, even alienating, but others claim her as a seminal feminist, determined to do what is right even in defiance of patriarchal law. Indeed, Antigone captured the public imagination immediately after the first performance of the play more than 2,500 years ago, as her deeds expanded the possibilities of human action, reconceived the role of women in society, and delineated a new type of character, one who sets her individual conscience and belief in divine principle above and against the power and authority of the state.

Ismene Antigone's last surviving sibling, Ismene is the foil for her stronger sister. In comparison to Antigone she has almost no agency, primarily because she is utterly terrified of disobeying men in power. She does not believe that women should ever violate the laws of men, since they are stronger and deserve subservience. Ismene does not help to bury Polyneices, but tries to claim responsibility for the burial later so that she can die with Antigone. Antigone refuses her help and Ismene is spared. This reflects both her great love for her family and her place as a symbol of the status quo who is rewarded for remembering her place.

Chorus of Theban Elders The Chorus comments on the action and interacts with Creon, actively interceding with advice at a critical moment late in the play. The Chorus is comprised of the Theban elders, vital for maintaining order in the city, and Creon summons them to win their loyalty. They watch the unfolding events with sympathy and a discerning eye: they pity Creon and Antigone, but also comment critically on their faults.

Creon The ruler of Thebes in the wake of war, Creon cherishes order and loyalty above all else. He cannot bear to be defied any more than he can bear to watch the laws of the state defied. He has Polyneices' body defiled while Eteocles is honored because he feels that he cannot give equal to share to both brothers when one was a traitor and the other was loyal. He does not recognize that other forms of justice exist, and in his pride he condemns Antigone, defies the gods, and brings ruin on himself.

Sentry/Watchman The Sentry brings the news that Polyneices has been buried, and later captures Antigone. His speech is an interesting experiment in the history of Greek drama, as it attempts to approximate the rhythms and diction of natural speech. Similarly, his psychology reflects that of the simplest logic and reason - his only concern is preserving his life, and he asks basic questions, contrasting with Creon, Haemon, Ismene, and Antigone's lofty speeches on principles and ethics.

Haemon Haemon is the son of Creon and Eurydice and is engaged to be married to Antigone. In a dramatic dialogue with his father, Haemon defends the moral basis of Antigone's actions while warning his father that the people of Thebes sympathize with her determination to bury Polyneices. He and his father part in anger, as he simply asks his father to do what's right for Thebes, and his father stubbornly follows the path of least resistance. Haemon's devotion to Antigone is clear; at her death, he is so distraught that he tries to kill his father and then kills himself.

Teiresias Teiresias, or , is a blind prophet who warns Creon that the gods do not approve of his treatment of Polyneices' body or the punishment of Antigone. Creon insults Teiresias, believing that he's simply blackmailing him for money, but the prophet responds with a prophecy foretelling the death of one of Creon's children and a warning that all of Greece will despise the king if he does not relent. Creon realizes that Teiresias has never been wrong and that he must do his bidding. The prophet is an important part of Sophocles' vision: through Teiresias, the will of the gods is made known, and his very existence implies that there is a definite will of the gods that is far above the domain of man's law. A Messenger The Messenger reports the suicides of Antigone and Haemon to the Chorus and Eurydice. He leaves to follow Eurydice when she runs off in grief. Eurydice Eurydice is Creon's wife and Haemon's mother. Broken by her son's suicide, she kills herself, calling curses down on Creon for having caused the tragedy.

Second Messenger The Second Messenger reports Eurydice's suicide to the Chorus and Creon. Creon, already broken by Haemon's death, is forced to confront the suicide of his wife as well.

Major Themes

Pride There is no question that pride, in the context of Antigone (and most of Sophocles' works), is a trait despised by the gods and punished without mercy. In Antigone, Sophocles describes the type of pride that allows men to create laws that substitute for divine principles. In other words, when Creon creates a law because he believes it is divine will, that is the ultimate display of punishable pride, for no man can ever create a law that is equal to or above divine right. As a result, when Tiresias comes with the news that Creon will suffer, Creon realizes that he has made a terrible mistake, and yet still refuses to admit it, bending to the prophet's message only because he wants to preserve his life, not because he knows he's gone too far. As a result, he must suffer the loss of his family.

Individual versus State; Conscience versus Law; Moral or Divine Law versus Human Law These three conflicts are very closely related, but this crude set of pairings helps to untangle some of the central issues of the play. Antigone and her values line up with the first entity in each pair, while Creon and his values line up with the second. Antigonecontinues to be a subversive and powerful play, and the inspiration for generations of rebels and dissidents. In the 20th century, a version of Antigone rewritten during the Second World War became one of the most powerful texts of resistance against the Nazis. The conflict between the individual and the power of the state was as pressing for Greek audiences as it is to modern ones. Antigone is a threat to the status quo; she invokes divine law as defense of her actions, but implicit in her position is faith in the discerning power of her individual conscience. She sacrifices her life out of devotion to principles higher than human law. Creon makes a mistake in sentencing her-and his mistake is condemned, in turn, by the gods-but his position is an understandable one. In the wake of war, and with his reign so new, Creon has to establish his authority as supreme. On the other hand, Creon's need to defeat Antigone seems at times to be extremely personal. At stake is not only the order of the state, but his pride and sense of himself as a king and, more fundamentally, a man.

Gender: the Position of Women Antigone's gender has profound effects on the meaning of her actions. Creon himself says that the need to defeat her is all the more pressing because she is a woman. The freedom of Greek women was extremely limited; the rules and strictures placed on them were great even for the ancient world. Antigone's rebellion is especially threatening because it upsets gender roles and hierarchy. By refusing to be passive, she overturns one of the fundamental rules of her culture. Ismene is Antigone's foil because she is completely cowed by the rule of men and believes that women should be subservient to them or risk incurring their wrath. Men are stronger, she says, and therefore must be obeyed. Ultimately, however, we see that she has merely bought into the problematic concepts that Creon espouses, for even when Creon realizes he may be wrong, he switches his defense, arguing that even if he were incorrect, he couldn't admit defeat to a woman, for that would upset divine law even more than backtracking on his principles. It is this fundamental untruth that Sophocles' play seeks to correct, mainly through the punishment that the Gods inflict on Creon as a result of his obtuse, misogynistic thinking.

Inaction/Lack of Agency versus Agency When faced with injustice, Antigone and Ismene react quite differently - the former aggressively, progressively, and the latter more conservatively. Ismene is not so much afraid of injustice as she is frightened of her own demise - and she cannot bear to incur the wrath of men for fear of being condemned to the same fate as the rest of her family. After watching her father and brothers die, she believes that the best course of action is to lie low and obey. In the case of Ismene, it seems inaction is tied to fear-at least until she willingly offers to die next to Antigone, at which point we realize that she is not so much inactive as she is unsure of her place as a woman. Thus, while Ismene is a figure characterized principally by doubt, Antigone is one who plunges ahead purely on self-belief and her firm convictions about right and wrong. Ultimately, then, because of these fundamental differences in philosophy, they cannot die together, though Ismene wants to. Antigone forbids it - she cannot bear to have her sister tag along when Ismene all along is in the camp of the patriarchs, despite her eleventh-hour shift.

The Threat of Tyranny Athenians, and particularly Thebans, were sensitive to the idea of tyranny and the fine line between a strong leader and a brutal tyrant. Creon is in many ways a sympathetic character, but he abuses his power subtly - mainly by decreeing man's law as a consequence of divine will. His faults do not necessarily stem from a lust for power, for he often has noble intentions. He is completely loyal to the state, but is subject to human weakness and poor judgment. Indeed, at the beginning of the play he frequently comments on his desire to do what's best for Thebes and gains the confidence of both Haemon and the Chorus of Elders, who say that they will follow him if that is his goal. And though he continues to reprise this theme, Creon is clearly more concerned with preserving certain values of law rather than the good of the city. When faced with a choice that would preserve 'tradition' or his own interpretation of the rule of law vs. a more progressive approach that does not follow precedent but clearly benefits Thebans, he chooses the former.

Lines 001-241

Greek audiences may not have been familiar with the particulars of Antigone's story, but they would have recognized the setting of the play and the initial context of its plot - namely, the city of Thebes and the seeming curse that afflicts all members of the royal family. Before we begin to explore the details of this particular story, let's review everything that's happened before the beginning of the action.

Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus, Greek drama's most infamous figure. Oedipus was a king who married his own mother after killing his own father - not knowing that either were his parents. The story of Oedipus The King, Sophocles' most renowned work, is useful for giving us insight into Antigone's doomed lineage and should be understood prior to reading Antigone.

Oedipus is born of Laius and , rulers of Thebes. Warned in a prophecy that Oedipus will grow up to murder his father and marry his mother, Laius and Jocasta arrange for his death - instructing a herdsman to kill the child. But the herdsman pities little Oedipus, and instead of killing him, passes him on to another herdsman from a neighboring kingdom, where Oedipus is raised by the king and queen as their own.

Later in his life, Oedipus himself hears the prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother. He flees the new kingdom, thinking he can avoid his fate. Along the way, however, he kills a stranger, who turns out to be his father Laius, and also solves the riddle of the , saving Thebes and becoming her king (as well as Jocasta's new husband). The terms of the prophecy are thus fulfilled. Oedipus learns this only after he has been in power in Thebes for some time. A plague begins to kill the Theban citizens, and an oracle informs the king that Thebes is being punished because Laius' murderer dwells among them. Oedipus sets out to learn the culprit's identity, and soon discovers that Laius was the stranger he killed, and worse, that Jocasta and Laius were his true parents. Jocasta is able to put the pieces of the puzzle together some time before her husband-son, and in despair she hangs herself. Oedipus, upon discovering her body, blinds himself with her broaches and leaves the city, entrusting his daughters, Antigone and Ismene, to the care of Creon (Jocasta's brother).

In the days preceding the start of the action of Antigone, Thebes has been torn apart by war. When Oedipus fell from grace, his sons Polyneices and Eteocles were too young to ascend to rule, and so the kingdom was entrusted to Creon, the brother of Jocasta. The brothers soon reach the suitable age to take over, but they continue to entrust rule to Creon, knowing that a curse seems to follow their family. But soon enough, they begin fighting over who will rule Thebes - Polyneices, as the older brother, believes he has the birthright, but Eteocles ousts him, which sends Polyneices looking for refuge in Argos. There he raises a powerful army, which he uses to invade Thebes -- leading to his own death and that of Eteocles. Creon ascends to the throne once more. It is at this point that the play begins.

Antigone and Ismene meet at night in front of the city gates. Antigone has called her sister out for a secret meeting: she bewails their fate as daughters of a doomed mother and father and sisters of two men who have slain each other. She then informs Ismene that Creon has declared that Eteocles shall be given a full and honorable funeral, while the body of Polyneices will be left to the vultures. Anyone who tries to perform the proper funeral rites for Polyneices will be killed by public stoning.

Antigone asks Ismene to help her bury Polyneices, even though to do so would ensure both their deaths. Creon has "no right to keep me from my own" (I. 47). Ismene refuses because she says that they are women and must not fight with men - men are stronger and therefore must be obeyed. It is not her responsibility as a woman to "aim too high, too far" (I. 67). Antigone is furious with her sister and says she would no longer welcome her help even if Ismene granted it. She also says that she will die willingly for her brother and ensure he is given a proper burial.

Ismene cannot dissuade Antigone, and she leaves to perform the burial. Antigone encourages Ismene to proclaim her flouting of Creon's action to the world - she is not afraid of death, and believes she will die with nobility. Ismene is afraid for her sister, and cannot condone her actions...but she also understands that there is something to what Antigone wants to do: "Know this; that though you are wrong to go, your friends / are right to love you" (ll. 116-7).

The Chorus of Theban Elders celebrates the Theban victory over Polynecies, praising for destroying the arrogant Polyneices and ensuring that the "savage pair" dies so that the "sacred precincts" of Thebes can be free. Creon enters and addresses the Chorus, announcing that the city is safe once again. He tells the elders that they were loyal to Laius, loyal to Oedipus, and loyal to Oedipus' sons, and that he can only hope they will be loyal to him as well.

Creon says that a ruler must not be afraid to say what's right - no matter how unpopular his views may make him. He says he will never call a man a friend who is hostile to Thebes, and that the city is their lifeboat. Thebes has no friends, but he will make sure that the city is raised high. He further explains his edict that Polyneices is not to be buried or mourned, and rather left for the birds and dogs as a spectacle of shame. Creon orders the Chorus not to side with anyone who disobeys him. The Chorus believes that no one is foolish enough to ask for death, but Creon says that hope - and bribery - have often led men to destruction.


In her very first speech, Antigone only briefly alludes to her and her sister's circumstances, but a Greek audience would have quickly filled in the gaps created by this 'in media res' device (meaning that Sophocles begins the story 'in the middle of things'). Antigone believes that they are the final victims of the curse that follows all the members of Oedipus' family. Oedipus, Jocasta, Laius, Polyneices and Eteocles have all paid their price - and now they suffer with shame and dishonor. Sophocles, then, sets up Antigone as an 'Oedipal' hero - meaning that she is structurally the protagonist, but cursed with a tragic fate. The question, of course, is whether we as readers can determine her tragic flaw - that element of her character that will send her to her doom - and whether we can successfully identify her antagonist. Antigone is different from other Greek dramas in that it more a play of competing philosophies than a drama of 'action' or plot. Indeed, Antigone isn't allowed to just plunge headlong into her decision to bury Polyneices - instead, she must repeatedly explain herself in the face of philosophical objection. First in line is her sister Ismene, who argues that their family has suffered enough - their father died in hatred and disgrace after gouging out his eyes, their mother hanged herself, and their brothers killed each other - but now they're alone and must submit to the law. In Ismene's eyes, they are now women alone - and women must not fight with men, because men are stronger and control the law. Because Antigone refuses to kowtow to Ismene's reasoning, she has often been held up as literature's first feminist.

At the same time, there is the question of nature. Ismene, when pressed, argues that it is not in her nature to act - that she cannot possibly take up arms against the city. Antigone sees this as an excuse, but the converse can be argued - that it is in hernature to disobey, to bury her brother without confronting Creon first. Ultimately the sisters' argument comes down to a fundamental difference between the two: Ismene believes that her duty is to the men who make the law, while Antigone believes that "those who matter most" are the Gods, and that Zeus would want her to bury her brother.

The Chorus in Greek drama can serve a number of purposes, but here it is referenced specifically as the 'council of elders in Thebes,' meaning that it is a politically-minded group. They have lived through all the cursed relatives of Oedipus, and thus when battle against Polyneices ends, they see a time of rejoicing and the end of pain. The Chorus is not only civil, but also serves as the conscience of reason here. Indeed, when Creon appears, his first words praise them for having shown respect to all the members of Oedipus' family and to express his hope that they will accede to his rule (I. 165-170). In turn, he announces his latest edict, and the Chorus responds simply that they will do what he thinks is right.

As the play continues, however, we will note a growing involvement on the part of the Chorus as they begin to see that Creon is leading their city astray. For now, they are content to stay uninvolved because they believe that no one is foolish enough to risk death by burying Polyneices, suggesting that they assume the entire city is as tired of death, destruction, and misery as they are. It is too early to suggest that Creon is Antigone's direct opponent, but Sophocles has already hinted at Creon's tragic flaw. He believes in revenge - the idea that Polyneices must be 'shamed' in death in order to right his wrong - an act that seems directly antithetical to the Chorus' wish to relegate the pain to the past (I. 206). Creon is thus perpetuating the legacy of Oedipus' curse, and we begin to see that as long as Polyneices remains unburied, the plague on Thebes will continue.

Lines 242-525

The watchman arrives, clearly nervous about being the bearer of bad news to Creon. Indeed, he says that he almost didn't come for fear that Creon would project his anger about the news onto him - but then realized that if Creon heard the news from another man, he might be even more angry. Creon tells the watchman to spit it out, and the watchman says that Polyneices' body has been properly buried. The guards discovered the body - buried completely, with attention to ceremony, leaving no marks behind. There was no sign of wild animals, he says, and no dogs sniffing or tugging at the corpse. The guards began to blame each other before realizing that the only way to find the culprit would be to inform Creon. They held a lottery as to who would be the messenger of bad news, and the watchman lost.

The Chorus of Elders wonders aloud whether the gods are behind the burial. Creon is outraged, suggesting that the Elders are as stupid as they are old. He says that the gods would never have a caring thought for Polyneices - they know he is a traitor, and criminals are never honored by the gods. Creon says that money must be involved as a motivation for the burial and tells the watchman that unless he and his fellow sentries find the person who buried Polyneices, he will hang them all. The watchman insists that it is unjust to hold him responsible for the burial and soon leaves, declaring that he will flee, never to return.

The Chorus extols the nature of humans - their ability to master all beasts, to conquer land, sea, and air, to take advantage of language and mind, and to live in cities under law. The Chorus believes that man has the means to handle every need and never take steps towards the future without having the means to do so. The only thing man cannot master is Death.

The watchman enters, leading Antigone. The Chorus is aghast at the possibility that Antigone completed the burial of Polyneices, but the sentry confirms it. Creon returns, and the watchman informs him of Antigone's guilt. Creon demands details, and the watchman says that the guards uncovered the previously buried body and left it in the sun. Soon enough, they caught Antigone by her brother's side, renewing the burial. The guards caught her, and she didn't even put up a fight.

Creon asks Antigone if she did the deed, and Antigone says she will never deny her guilt. Creon dismisses the watchman and then asks Antigone, in a move that would likely spare her life, if she even knew that burying the body was forbidden. Antigone says that she did know, but she didn't believe it was a viable law. She says that she answers to Zeus, not to Creon. She further states that the gods didn't lay down these laws for human use and manipulation, and that she will endure the god's judgment of the burial, not Creon's, no matter now dire his punishment may be. Antigone adds that people who live in misery like her are better off dead.

The Chorus declares that Antigone is as unhinged as her father, but Creon says she is merely stubborn, arrogant, and boastful. If he does not punish her, then he is not a man - and indeed, Antigone would come across as the more "manly." He says that he doesn't care if Antigone is his sister's child - she and Ismene must pay for the burial. The Chorus is surprised that Creon would indict Ismene, but Creon says that they are both guilty, as they connived together over the act.


The watchman is reminiscent of Polonius from Hamlet - namely, a character of slight absurdity who is there to provide comic relief amidst a dramatic expanse of tragedy. For all the philosophizing and melodrama associated with justice and idealism, here we have a sentry who is concerned with nothing else but preserving his life - even going so far as to continually interrupt Creon to ensure that he is going to escape unscathed and that things "won't be any worse than they have to be" (236). Though at times the watchman comes across as a bit buffoonish, he does serve a very clear purpose - to remind us that the danger facing Antigone is real, and that this is not a matter of simple bargaining over principles, but rather a dire battle over a person's right to live and die in accordance with divine or mundane law.

A number of scholars argue that Creon's tragic flaw is his obstinacy - his unwillingness to change his point of view once he sets upon it, but in this section we begin to see that his flaw runs deeper. He is afflicted with a sense of self-righteousness and the idea that man is meant to interpret the gods' will through law. In other words, he believes that human-imposed law is divine, and that a citizen who serves him is, in turn, serving the gods themselves. Upon hearing of the burial, the Chorus suggests that "the gods are behind this piece of work" (279), but Creon lashes out, demanding to know whether a criminal has ever been "honored by the gods" (287). There is, of course, circular logic in this argument, for who determines who is criminal? As the ruler of the kingdom, of course, Creon is the arbiter of who is criminal and who is not - and therefore reserves divine right for himself.

Creon reserves his deepest disdain for money, which he believes is the "nastiest weed to sprout in human soil." It seems a bit off-topic to go after money, even though he believes deeply that it is the source of bribery and therefore at the heart of the mystery of the burial, but Creon's diatribe about money gives us deeper insight into his tragic flaw. Indeed, money is ungovernable, for it falls outside the province of human law. In other words, Creon has full power over the lives of the citizens in his kingdom - the power to determine who is happy and who is not - but his power does not extend to the institution of money, which is beyond his control. Money allows for free will - and free will in turn, says Creon, ravages a city.

The Chorus' extolling of the human race is an extraordinary and quite famous passage in Greek drama. It is written as a Stasimon, and is known as the "Ode to Man." It is a fascinating piece of choral poetry that warrants analysis on its own terms - particularly its brand of implied philosophy about the evolution of man. Here Sophocles endorses a theory that says that man found his own means of survival apart from the gods - finding ways to tackle all sorts of beasts, weather, and terrain. This was a popular humanist theory of the time supported by several philosophers, but we're not quite sure of the Chorus' attitude towards it, because they seem possessed by both pride and fear. While man may have "taught himself" to handle every need through civilization, he has not conquered death - leaving him vulnerable to a mystery beyond himself. Furthermore, by allowing that man has found the means to survive and to transcend initial limitations, this theory also allows for man's potential downfall, since they are living entirely as a consequence of free will. As a result, man can "slither into wickedness" (367), or 'turn shameless' (372)...and can ultimately go wrong.

Antigone and Creon's debate has a number of fascinating implications. Antigone's argument is a rebuttal of the Chorus' "Ode to Man." She implies that man has no power over the rites to life and death - that these are functions of the gods, and that since Zeus made no announcement about the burial of Polyneices, she is free to bury him as she likes. The gods' laws live for all time, and no man can suddenly change them or manipulate the penalties surrounding them. Creon, meanwhile, sees such an attitude not as relating to the debate over the powers between man vs. god, but rather in terms of the mundane, mortal struggle between man and woman. For as long as Antigone claims to serve a higher power than Creon, according to Creon she "would be the man." Creon believes that Antigone must be killed to right the balance and ensure that no woman will ever best a man. Indeed, he believes that as long as he stamps out this woman who serves a higher power than himself, he will ensure that man's established laws always reign supreme. Ultimately, then, the battle between Creon and Antigone can be distilled to Creon's tragic flaw: his belief in the absolute supremacy of man's law. Ultimately, he will pay the price by seeing how little control he wields over both the will of the people and the will of the gods.

Lines 579-785

Ismene enters, and Creon accuses her of being a conspirator in Polyneices' burial. Ismene confesses and says that she and Antigone were partners in the crime. Antigone, however, refuses Ismene's confession and says that she will not allow the penalty to fall on her sister. Indeed, she says she has witnesses from the gods of who did the work, and that she will not accept a friend who is only a friend in words. Ismene is devastated, and tells Antigone not to despise her. She says that they should die together so that they can sanctify their dead.

Ismene asks Creon whether he really would kill the bride of his son - since Creon's sonHaemon is meant to marry Antigone. Creon says that there other women Haemon may find, and death will put a stop to the marriage. The guards take the two sisters inside. The Chorus mourns the tragedies of the house of Labdacus - the house that spawned Oedipus' doomed lineage. They say that madness stalks the family without fail, creating disaster for many generations like a great salt wave. They see grief falling from the beginning of the Labdacus history and that the gods continue to batter them without relief. Even the saving light of Antigone will now go out, doomed by foolish words and impulsive actions. They see madness as a product of mortals who are great, and all the members of the Labdacus family are subject to this curse. Haemon enters, and at first seems willing to submit to his father's judgment. Creon embarks on a long diatribe, saying that a son must always be loyal to his father, disdain any wife who is hostile or criminal, look down upon all disobedience and treachery to law, and most of all ensure that they are not defeated by a woman. The Chorus is dazzled by Creon's speech, and now fully sympathize with him. Haemon, however, tells his father that the people of Thebes sympathize with Antigone - and that even though he agrees with his father, the will of the people should be honored. Haemon says that even though he would never question his father's leadership and agrees with the philosophy of his rule, he should also be open to other points of view. The Chorus also agrees with Haemon, and declares that both men have spoken well.

Creon is angry once again, and asks the Chorus whether they should be taught by a boy who is as young as Creon. Haemon tells his father he would never urge him to show respect for a criminal, prompting Creon to ask whether he thinks Antigone has committed a crime. Haemon says that he thinks not - because the people of Thebes deny it. Creon asks whether the people should tell him what orders to give, and Haemon says a place for one man alone is not a city. Creon accuses Haemon of being a woman's slave, to which his son simply replies that Antigone will not die while he is near, and that Creon will never see his face again. He exits, and the Chorus warns of the impulsiveness of youth.

Creon says that both girls will now be killed, but the Chorus' prudent questions make Creon realize that Ismene should be spared. He does, however, say that Antigone will be buried alive underground with only as much food as religious law prescribes so that the city will not be cursed for homicide. Underground, Antigone can pray to Hades, since he is the only god that she respects. Maybe she'll arrange for him to save her life - and she'll learn that she's wasting her time showing respect for whatever lies in the underworld. Creon exits.


It is interesting to note that Antigone does not defend Ismene out of love or altruism, but rather because she pridefully claims the burial as her own work. If Antigone has a tragic flaw, it's she - not Creon - who is too prideful, even boastful. When Ismene says that she'll be her shipmate in suffering (540), Antigone refuses her complicity, saying that the gods below saw who did the work, and more damningly, that "I won't accept a friend who's only friends in words" (543). Antigone, then, is saying that Ismene's sudden desire to claim responsibility for the act is not courage, but rather cowardice - for she'd rather talk than act, and would rather claim the spiritual reward than actually muddy her hands and do the right thing. Ismene, ever the pragmatist, asks Antigone why she's scolding her before Creon, since it "won't help her."

Creon, most tellingly, calls Antigone a "bad woman" when asked about his breakup of the Antigone-Haemon engagement. Indeed, he believes that when Antigone dies, there will be plenty of other women for Haemon to choose from, giving us an even deeper hook into his misogyny. Indeed, Creon has a precise conception of woman, and Antigone does not fit it. The impending marriage between her and Haemon is not a detraction from Antigone's execution, but rather an even more urgent demand for it. He cannot bear to have his son marry a woman who thinks she can ignore a man's laws. In fact, Creon would more likely want his son with someone like Ismene - who, we recall, told her sister earlier in the play that women must never flout the laws of men, and instead must obey them without the slightest ripple of rebellion. Slowly, we begin to see that Antigone is a play about women's roles in society - in other words, a pre-feminist drama.

Haemon enters with a very simple plea: "give me good advice and I will follow it" (636). He is not the typical headstrong, impulsive, hot-blooded Romeo that modern readers might expect in their romantic male lead - and indeed, though the Chorus continually ascribes him this characterization, we're not convinced by it. Instead, Haemon seems like the most practical character in the play - a man of intense reason, open to all sides, but requires that his father offer wise counsel. We sense that his tragic flaw is obeisance to his father at all costs. Creon, meanwhile, delivers a thunderous diatribe on what makes a man, but concludes simply that "order must be maintained" and there must be "no surrender to a woman" (678) for no other reason than that a woman cannot be said to best a man. He even goes so far as to imply that if a man had buried Polynecies, clemency might be in order.

Haemon, however, is concerned that the entire city is grieving over Antigone, and that no woman has ever had a fate that's so unjust. Haemon argues that his father need not believe that he is surrendering to a woman by allowing Antigone to live, or even compromising his beliefs - instead, he would simply be ensuring true, proper rule, for it is what the people want. Creon, however, is again fooled by his own preconceptions and ideology. It seems he has listened to Haemon, even possibly agrees with what he says, but he cannot bear to listen to or be taught by a boy like him. In other words, for Creon, circumstances do not matter, and context does not matter. He sees actions as absolutes - if a woman betrays a man's orders, she must die; if a young man tries to preach to an elder, they must not be listened to, etc. Haemon says that Creon should "look at what I do, not my age," but Creon again sees this as a matter of breaking ranks. Ultimately, there is no reasoning with Creon - he made his law, and it will be followed regardless of the costs.

Creon also possesses a mighty ego, in that he perceives everything through the prism of his own qualifications for rule. When Haemon suggests that Antigone's death will destroy someone else, Creon believes immediately that it's a direct threat from his son instead of thinking through the consequences of the girl's death. Indeed, it's obvious that Antigone's death will upset Thebes and devastate his son, but Creon is interested in neither consequence, concerned only with showing the people of Thebes who is in charge. Thus we see that Creon also believes that effective leadership involves follow-through at all costs, rather than reasoned interaction with his council, with his people, or with purported criminals. When Haemon points this out, Creon simply says that he's a slave - a woman's toy - prompting his son to wonder whether his father will ever listen. Creon's response is to threaten to kill Antigone in front of him, again confirming that for this king, it is action that makes a man, and not the ability to determine the consequences of those actions.

Lines 786-1090

The Chorus extols the power of love, which affects all beings - including the gods. Love has the power to make even the strongest person go mad and pervert even the best minds - and the Chorus believes that the fight between Creon and his son can be traced to the wickedness of love. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, is undefeatable and makes all men toys in her hands. Love strikes the Chorus, too: they weep at the approach ofAntigone, "making her way / to her bed."

Antigone enters, bemoaning her "last road" as she walks towards her death. Her husband is to be Acheron, "Lord of Death" (l. 810), and she will rest with him, deprived of marriage hymns. The Chorus tries to comfort her by telling her that she will be honored with hymns of praise, for she stayed true to her own laws. Antigone denies this, comparing her fate to the goddess Niobe who was locked away in "rocky growth" and was subdued into death. The Chorus sees this as a wonderful comparison - proof that Antigone is now immortal, like a goddess, but Antigone accuses them of mocking her and of trying to find a way to justify this cruel death where she has no place with human beings, living or dead, and no city to call home. Finally, the Chorus takes a stand and says that Antigone is extreme and impetuous, and deserves her fate because she went too far. She crossed the purveyor of high justice, and now must endure her father's legacy, which is eternal pain and punishment. Antigone weeps for her doomed ancestors.

Creon enters and says that Antigone should be taken away immediately - and left alone in her tomb. Antigone prepares herself for death, and says she is coming home forever now, to be held with her own people, most of whom are dead now under the curse of her family tree. She knows she has done the right thing, but still thinks that the punishment is too cruel. She's never had a man, never had a wedding, never shared love with a husband or raised a child. She will go to the hollow of the dead without ever knowing why - for she did not violate divine justice, and knows that the gods will not help her in her misery. She says that she doesn't know who to pray to, only that she does not want to repent for her supposed sin. She hopes that those who condemned her suffer as much as she does.

The Chorus sees her words as signs of her unchanged fiery character, while Creon grows impatient with the guards. Antigone tells the "princes of Thebes" to look at her, the last of her line, punished because she has given "reverence to what claims reverence" (ll. 1000-1). She is led away as the Chorus speaks of others who have suffered at the hands of the Fates.

The blind prophet Teiresias enters, led by a young boy. The old sage asks Creon to heed his advice as he has in the past. The signs say that the gods do not approve of the treatment of Polyneices' body. On the altars, there is "the carrion meat of birds and dogs, / torn from the flesh of Oedipus' poor son" (ll. 1074-5). The gods do not take the prayers or sacrifices of the Thebans, and the birds' cries are muffled because the birds' throats are glutted with the blood of Polyneices. Teiresias expounds on the importance of taking counsel, and says that a man who makes a mistake and then corrects it brings no shame on himself.

Creon accuses Teiresias of being a greedy manipulator. The ruler insinuates that the old sage has been bribed. Teiresias says that the wise should learn to heed advice, and he accuses princes of loving to take advantage of people. Then Teiresias gives him a prophecy: within a few days, one of his children will die because Creon kept one above the earth who should have been buried, while putting below the earth one who should walk among the living. The gods, as a result, will exchange a "life for a life." According to Teiresias, Creon has violated the proper treatment of both the living and the dead. All the cities will despise Creon, because the carrion animals will run amok, and birds shall carry the stench of death everywhere. The prophet leaves in anger.


The Chorus functions not just as a literal set of characters - namely the tribe of elders - but also in a number of other capacities. First, they separate the key segments of action so that characters are given time to accomplish whatever they set out to do, and so that the audience can digest the heated emotions of the previous scene. Often, in thunderous dramas such as this, comic relief scenes and jester-like characters might serve the same purpose, but here the Chorus also offers tribute to the divine at every opportunity - to Zeus, to Love, to Bacchus, etc.

Of all the choral poems, the ode to Bacchus is perhaps the most unexpected, because love seems the one element most absent from Antigone. Indeed, for all his professed love of Antigone, Haemon seems genuinely unaffected by passion - making the Chorus' claim that the fight between Creon and Haemon is rooted in love rather unconvincing. Even more so, at the end of the play we're not sure whether it's love that causes Haemon's tragic end, or loathing for his father. It is fully appropriate, then, to wonder whether the Love the chorus is referencing is between Haemon and Antigone, or Haemon and Creon - for Haemon worships his father and only wants Creon to give him good advice for him to follow. Upon learning that his father is not only fallible, but mortally foolish, Haemon loses the one thing he held above all: his love for Creon.

Antigone is not an unfeeling heroine. Indeed, once she has been condemned to death, she doesn't doubt her decision, but rather continues to challenge the process of life that would allow foolish mortals to reign over divine law. These last speeches by Antigone are powerful and affecting because they seem to take her out of the bounds of the story - as if to literally ask, "why must I die when I've done nothing wrong?" For all her feminist claims, Antigone has no desire to be a martyr. We sense her desire to marry, to have a wedding, to have sex, to have a child - but now she has no one to pray to, because she has learned that the gods won't interfere on her behalf.

Her last speech is worthy of closer examination: City of my fathers, Thebes! Gods of my people!

They take me against my will.

Look, O you lords of Thebes:

I am the last remnant of kings.

Look what these wretched men do,

For my pure reverence!

Antigone brings together all the horrors, dreams, and fears that have plagued her and will stay with her in her underground tomb. She appeals to the gods, imploring them to save her from men - for she is the last remnant of the true Thebes, the one that belonged to her father, and the one that belonged to the legacy touched by a divine plague. But now, for the sake of 'reverence,' or show to the gods, Antigone will die - and she asks that the gods intervene to show Creon that he is not acting in true reverence of the gods, but against them.

As in Oedipus, it is up to a blind prophet to make our king see straight, and Creon is aghast at Teiresias' terrible prophecies. Remember, Creon does not listen to Antigone because she is a woman, and will not listen to Haemon because he is young - and at first he won't listen to Teiresias because he thinks the soothsayer is only after money. Now we understand why Creon delivered the seemingly irrelevant diatribe on money earlier - because it gives him a convenient excuse not to listen to anyone who disagrees with him and isn't easily dismissed. Ultimately, however, he must listen to Teiresias, because the prophet is never wrong. In other words, Creon cannot argue with empirical evidence; he cannot argue with what he sees. Teiresias is himself offended, however, by Creon's initial dismissal of him and leaves with a precise understanding of Creon's tragic flaw - his projection of anger onto those weaker than him, his impulsivity, and his ego.

Lines 1091-1350

The Chorus is terrified by Teiresias' prophecies, for they claim he has never been wrong before. Creon is shaken too, for the first time - and says he knows giving in would be terrible, but standing firm in the wake of such prognostication would invite disaster. He asks the Chorus for advice, and they tell him to let the girl go, and to build a tomb for Polyneices. They tell him that he must do it himself, as well. Creon takes his attendants and goes to follow their instructions. As they go, the Chorus sings the praises of Bacchus, and asks him to look over their city of Thebes and hear their hymns of praise. They need someone to assuage the plague over the Labdacus family and the Theban people, and they ask Bacchus to allow the people of the city to finally enjoy ecstasy. A Messenger arrives, revealing to the Chorus that great misfortune has befallen Creon.Haemon is dead by his own hand. Eurydice, wife of Creon, comes down to see the Messenger. She has heard that great horror has befallen her house, but she wants to hear the whole story from the Messenger.

Creon and his men gave Polyneices proper burial rites, as the Chorus had urged. After burying the body they went to free Antigone, but before going down into her tomb, they heard the sounds of Haemon, sobbing. Upon opening the tomb, they found that Antigone had hanged herself. Haemon was holding her body around the waist. Creon urged his son to come out of the cave, but Haemon instead looked at his father with poison and hatred and drew his sword against him. Failing to wound his father, Haemon turned the sword on himself.

When the Messenger completes his story, the Chorus notices that Eurydice is gone. The Messenger goes after her at the Chorus' urging to make sure nothing untoward has happened. Creon returns carrying Haemon's body, devastated by guilt, knowing that he has brought this plague upon his family. Immediately, a second Messenger emerges to inform Creon that Eurydice has killed herself. As she committed suicide, she cursed her husband. Weeping and bewailing his fate, Creon asks the servants to lead him away. No longer stubborn or proud, he knows that he has brought about the deaths of his wife and son. He stood by his conception of justice, but in doing so he defied the gods' laws and lost his son and wife. The Chorus comes forward to warn that pride brings retribution, and to declare that the greatest form of wisdom is an abdication of pride.


Creon's most telling line in Antigone comes after Teiresias' exit, when he admits that it is so painful to "pull back" or give in to Antigone, since it "goes against my heart," but he cannot fight against "necessity," and thus goes to free her from the tomb. In other words, he still differentiates between what he believes is right and what must be done - in this gap, then, we see his tragic flaw. Indeed, if Creon suddenly threw himself on the mercy of the Gods, and begged forgiveness for the errors of his ways, the ending would be in doubt - for he would be redeemed in his judgment and the lesson would be learned. But instead he refuses all self-examination, and sees Teiresias' prophecy as something that simply must be "dealt with," as if it has nothing to do with the absolute truth. In fact, even when Teiresias is claiming the supremacy of divine law, Creon is still denying its power - implying that it's not right and doesn't deserve respect, but that still he will follow through with it because he doesn't want to die. Clearly, he will have to suffer in order to fully admit that he is incapable of seeing or setting the parameters for true law.

Haemon's death, according to the Messenger, occurred in a flash of rage - one that nearly consumed Creon as well. When Creon and his men opened Antigone's tomb, they found Haemon clutching the dead girl's waist. Haemon's first instinct was to stab his father - an expression of primal rage over both the murder of his lover and his father's fall from the pedestal upon which Haemon had placed him. Remember that upon Haemon's entrance all he asked was that his father guide him in the right direction, but now he sees that he's been led astray - and his first instinct is to destroy that which he once loved. But missing his father with his sword is symbolic of the larger problem - that Creon still has learned nothing, and that wounding him or killing him would simply give him more ammunition to support his disdain of the passion of women and of youth. In killing himself, Haemon sets himself free from the legacy of a cursed father and from a life without love.

Eurydice seems to play absolutely no role in the rest of the drama, but suddenly appears at the end to take her own life, merely adding to the body count. At first this may seem like overkill, but this moment is rather a precise fulfillment of the terms of Teiresias' prophecy. Indeed, Haemon's life is exchanged for Polyneices' - a death characterized by shame and vengefulness. Eurydice, meanwhile, will atone for Antigone's death - she dies much like Antigone, cursing Creon to the end, abdicating any sense of his self-ascribed power.

Creon asks for death, as his misery and guilt are too much to bear, but the gods do not oblige. Finally Creon is contrite - he knows that he killed Haemon and Antigone and shamed Polyneices, and that he can no longer be king or live among humans. In a final, cruelly ironic twist, he asks for the same fate as those he killed - a death of suffering - but the Chorus makes it clear that his destiny is to live out his days in the deepest regret and shame, as a symbol that no mortal can escape his divine fate. The Chorus ends with a distillation of the theme that it is wisdom - not power, money, love or good deeds - that is the key to a blessed life. With wisdom comes reverence from the gods, a disdain of arrogance, and the freedom from suffering that comes from believing in the omnipotence of man.

Ultimately, however, we're left with the question of whether Antigone is a true martyr - an innocent victim - or whether she also bears responsibility for her own death. Critics of the time made a number of charges against Antigone - all seemingly tied to her transgressions as a woman. She "leaves her home in the dark before dawn to conspire with her sister, and such activity in the dark is forbidden to women. She takes on burial, which is men's work. She does not accept male authority, and she threatens the order of the city by violating an order of the king" (Woodruff xvii). Perhaps most damning of all, she seems to make a conscious choice to give up the life of a woman (marriage, children, etc.) to stand by her principles - something that must have truly infuriated the men of the time. But Antigone's argument for the power of unwritten, divine law is particularly cogent and seems to deny any attempts to impose a tragic flaw upon her. Her reasoning, simply put, is that it doesn't matter what man conceives of as right and wrong for himself, and it certainly doesn't matter if these things are written in stone. Rather, it is more important to follow divine truth - the rights and wrongs of the heart - to ensure that man will live in accordance with the will of the gods. As a result, there is no precise law - only a guide what should be done in a given circumstance - and though she will be punished for her supposed transgression by losing her life, and regrets such a cruel fate, Antigone cannot take back what she has done because it is the only thing she could have done as a child of the gods.

Antigone's Family Tree

An understanding of Antigone's lineage is crucial to decoding the significance of the various characters' ultimate fates. Let's examine the major characters in the family tree adjacent to this page.

Oedipus is a descendent of the Labdacus family, which is plagued with a terrible curse. Oedipus kills his father Laius inadvertently, not realizing who he is, and then proceeds to marry his mother, Jocasta, also not realizing her true identity. (For more on how this came to pass, see the summary of the first section of Antigone). As a result of Oedipus' marriage to Jocasta, he sires four children, who are at once his siblings and his children: Eteocles, Polyneices, Ismene, and Antigone.

Oedipus, shamed by his marriage and murder, surrenders the kingdom to his brother Creon (since Creon is Jocasta's brother, he is also Oedipus' brother). Creon takes over the kingdom because it is feared that Eteocles and Polyneices are also cursed by the Labdacus plague and will continue bringing misery to Thebes. Eventually, however, Polyneices makes a claim on the Theban crown, causing him to be banished. At this point, Polyneices raises an army, returns to claim Thebes, and ends up dying at the hands of Eteocles, who dies in the fray as well. Creon remains in control of Thebes.

Of this line, only Ismene and Antigone remain living at the start of the play. Antigone is supposed to marry her cousin Haemon, but by the end of the play, in a revelation that demonstrates just how widespread the Labdacus curse is - Haemon dies, Eurydice dies, and Antigone dies, leaving only Ismene and Creon as the de facto descendants of Labdacus.

Suggested Essay Questions

1. Why does Ismene object to Antigone's plan to bury Polyneices?

Possible Answer:

Ismene believes the men who rule Thebes must not be disobeyed because men are stronger and their will must be respected.

2. How does Antigone demonstrate pre-feminist ethics?

Possible Answer:

Antigone believes that a woman's duty is not to the men who rule a domain, but rather to her own instincts and her own sense of right and wrong. She believes that the gods do not dictate through a ruler, but rather through individual beliefs.

3. When does Creon become apologetic for his actions?

Possible Answer:

Creon never apologizes for his actions. Instead, he simply orders Antigone to be freed because he knows that Teiresias is never wrong - and therefore that his own life is at risk. However, he never truly believes that his order to imprison her was the wrong course of action.

4. What is the seeming reason for Haemon's suicide? Does he kill himself only out of desperate love for the dead Antigone?

Possible Answer:

Haemon's suicide seems to have two motivations - first out of anguish over Antigone's death, but also because he is so furious with his father for having betrayed his trust. Early in the play, Haemon tells his father that as long as he offers wisdom, Haemon will follow him. But now it is clear that his father led him astray, and for that Haemon believes that one of them must die.

5. Why isn't Creon killed by the plague that befalls him at the play's end? Possible Answer:

Creon's punishment is to suffer without a family, and to suffer the guilt of knowing he destroyed the lives of innocents to preserve obsolete traditions and a misconceived legacy of misogynist rule.

6. What is Creon's tragic flaw?

Possible Answer:

Creon's tragic flaw is that he believes that men have the right to interpret divine will and impose absolute power in their name. As a result, a simple belief - men cannot be wrong in the face of women - is elevated to law and thus leads to multiple (unnecessary) deaths.

7. Is Antigone ever apologetic for burying Polyneices?

Possible Answer:

Though Antigone bemoans her fate and believes death is a cruel and unnecessary punishment for burying Polyneices, she is never apologetic for actually covering his body. She believes until the end that she did the right thing.

8. Why does Antigone not allow Ismene to join her in her death sentence?

Possible Answer:

Antigone does not want her sister laying claim to an act that was solely hers for two reasons: one, because she wants her sister to remain alive, and two, because she wants her sister to feel the shame of abandoning her principles for the sake of staying alive and being subservient to men.

9. What is the role of the Chorus?

Possible Answer:

The Chorus is meant to reflect the conscience of Thebes - they are the elders who expect Creon to guide them towards wisdom. As they lead him astray, they begin to sense this and reflect their feelings in their choral poems.

10. What is unusual about the Watchman's speech? Possible Answer:

Unlike the other characters, the Watchman's speech is written in more natural rhythms and dialect.

Important Quotes from Antigone with Analysis written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/17/2012

Understand these important quotes from Antigone to understand the main themes, and meaning in Greek tragedy. Ace your test, impress your teacher and get the girl (or guy) of your dreams.

 Quote: "Now you can prove what you are: / A true sister, or a traitor to your family." (Prologue, 26-27). Analysis: Antigone calls out her sister, informing her that she's either for her or against her. Quote: "When the laws are kept, how proudly his city stands! / When the laws are broken, what of his city then? / Never may the anarchic man find rest at my hearth, / Never be it said that my thoughts are his thoughts." (Ode 1, lines 21-24). Analysis: The chorus fulfills one of its roles by declaring an important Thebean value, in this example, obedience to the law. This statement can be interpreted in two ways: (1) the chorus agrees with Creon and calls for the death of the individual who buried Polyneices; (2) the chorus condemns Creon for his anarchic treatment of the gods' laws. Quote: "I have seen / A mother bird come back to her stripped nest, heard / her crying bitterly a broken note or two / For the young ones stolen. Just so, when this girl / Found the bare corpse, and all her love's work wasted, / She wept, and cried on heaven to damn the hands that had done this thing." (Scene 2, lines 35-41). Analysis: The sentry uses a simile to describe Antigone's anguish upon finding her work undone. If Antigone has already put a layer of dirt over the dead body and performed the burial rights, then why does she need to come back? Would the unburying of the body nullify her work? Does she have another reason for returning like wishing to be caught? Who is qualified and authorized to perform these burial rights? Can any random person do it?  Quote: "She has much to learn. / The inflexible heart breaks first, the toughest iron / Cracks first, and the wildest horses bend their necks and pull at the smallest curb." (Scene 2, lines 76-79).  Analysis: Creon employs several metaphors for describing the fate of those who refuse to change their mind. He unknowingly condemns himself, for it is he who has the inflexible heart and has much to learn. This is irony. Quote: "Fortunate is the man who has never tasted God's vengeance! / Where once the anger of heaven has struck, that house is shaken." (Ode 2, lines 1-2). Analysis: The chorus states a Thebean axiom regarding fate. On the surface, the chorus pities Antigone, the daughter/sister of Oedipus whose family is cursed by the gods. It also can be applied to Creon who is soon to be cursed by the gods for his unjust law. Quote: "Do not believe that you alone can be right. / The man who thinks that, / The man who maintains that only he has the power / To reason correctly, the gift to speak, the soul-- / A man like that, when you know him, turns out empty. / It is not reason never to yield to reason." (75- 79). Analysis: Haemon attempts to save his fianceé and his father with wise counsel. Creon never responds to the argument, choosing instead to attack the speaker. Ignoring Haemon's advice has brought the downfall of rulers and common folk since the beginning of time.  Quote: Antigone: O Oedipus, father and brother! / Your marriage strikes me from the grave to murder mine / I have been a stranger here in my own land / All my life / The blasphemy of my birth has followed me. Chorus: Your death is the doing of your own conscious hand.

Analysis: Antigone brings up that whole Oedipus killing his father and marrying his mother incident. She claims it's Oedipus wrong doing and subsequent curse that forbids her happiness. The chorus calls her out and reminds her that it is her choices that have caused her downfall. The debate concerning free will and fate has raged for centuries. Quote: Creon: This generation of prophets have always loved gold Teiresias: This generation of kings has always loved brass.

Analysis: There's nothing more destructive to a kingdom than when the king gets in an argument with the town seer. Nothing good can come of this. Nothing does. Creon accuses Teiresias of taking bribes. Teiresias responds by accusing Creon of placing value on things with apparent beauty but no real value.  Quote: "Not many days, / And your house will be full of men and women weeping, / And curses will be hurled at you from far / Cities grieving for sons unburied, left to rot / Before the walls of Thebes." (Scene 5, 79-83). Analysis: Teiresias uses the "your house will be full of men and women weeping" card and wins the argument. It is this threat that finally causes Creon to repent. He repents too late and Teiresias' prophecy is fulfilled. Quote: "I cannot say / Of any condition of human life "This is fixed. / This is clearly good or bad." Fate raises up, / And fate casts down the happy and unhappy alike: / No man can foretell his fate." (Exodus, lines 3-7). Analysis: Chances are when the messenger begins his message in this fashion, bad news will follow. And it does. Fate plays an important role in Greek tragedy. Quote: "There is no happiness where there is no wisdom; / No wisdom but in submission to the gods. / Big words are always punished, / And proud men in old age learn to be wise." (Exodus, lines 139-142). Analysis: That pretty much sums up the play's theme. Too bad it took Creon so long to figure it out.

Antigone Thesis Statements and Important Quotes

Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for Antigone by Sophocles that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in Antigone and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of Antigone by Sophocles in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from Antigone at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay. Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Agency Versus Inaction in Antigone Ismene and Antigone vary greatly in their respective attributes, Ismene is breathtakingly beautiful, while Antigone is plain; Antigone is brave while Ismene is frightened. The core difference between the two of them lies in Antigone’s willingness to create change and Ismene’s hope that she can make it through life without creating waves. This difference manifests itself most brilliantly in the burial of . Antigone is willing to risk anything to have her brother buried with honor, while Ismene worries solely for the safety of her sister. This behavior continues throughout the novel, with Ismene acceding to Creon’s demands, and Antigone taking brave but stupid risks. In the end of the play, Antigone even takes her life in her own terms. What can be said about the desire to make life happen, the ability to not sit idly by? Does Sophocles seem to advocate this position, despite the death of Antigone?

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Function of the Chorus in Antigone For most plays, the role of the Chorus involves a small number of people, usually between 7-12, who make commentary on the unfolding events and serve as foreshadowers to the action to come. They are usually apart from the action, yet also apart from the audience; they function best as an uninvolved narrator. However, in Antigone, the chorus breaks most literary conventions. Instead of being portrayed as a group of people, the chorus is merely one person, who aligns himself with the audience. He quite frequently refers to the audience and himself as the collective ―we‖ and by doing so, makes the audience a part of his chorus. Why is this important? What feelings towards the play are created when the audience takes on the role of the chorus?

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Antigone and Sisterhood The rivalry between Ismene and Antigone is strong, because both girls are similar in age with very contrasting personalities. Antigone is decisive, moody, brave and impulsive, while Ismene is beautiful, timid and beautiful. The two are set up as classic ―good girl‖ and ―bad girl‖ stereotypes, with Antigone eventually tying Ismene to a tree, and stealing her sister’s makeup and other items to make herself more attractive to Haemon. However, despite this fierce rivalry between the two sisters, when Creon is threatening Ismene with death and imprisonment if she does not stop her attempts to bury her brother, Ismene is quick to jump to her defense, stating that if Creon locks Antigone up, Ismene will simply take over and die alongside her for their treason. What can be said about the juxtaposition of their past relationship and Ismene’s sudden willingness to die for Antigone? Is their rivalry perhaps less fierce than expected because of their bond of sisterhood? Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Individual Versus the State in Antigone The role of the individual in Antigone is very important. Obviously, Antigone herself is a strong individual character, who is not willing to allow her brother to be dishonored, no matter what the cost is to her own body. Creon is also a strong character, and while he knows the law and is convinced that he must follow it, he has sympathetic feelings for Antigone and tries to get her out of trouble. In which ways are Creon and Antigone both destroyed by the power of the law? How do they try to get around the laws that have been set down by Creon, and in which ways do they fail at that attempt? What is the meaning behind their failures?

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5: Tragedy in Antigone As the reader progresses through Antigone, it becomes obvious by the plot twists that the play is a tragedy at heart. However, to make the nature of the play even more clear, the Chorus appears halfway through the production to tell the audience that the tragedy has begun. This statement proves the inevitability of the coming tragic events, and takes the pressure off of the characters to attempt to stop such things from occurring.

This list of important quotations from Antigone by Sophocles will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Antigone listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for Antigone above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by Sophocles they are referring to. ―I didn’t say yes. I can say no to anything I say vile, and I don’t have to count the cost. But because you said yes, all that you can do, for all your crown and your trappings, and your guards—all that your can do is to have me killed.‖ (18) ―My nails are broken, my fingers are bleeding, my arms are covered with the welts left by the paws of your guards—but I am a queen!‖ (19)

―If Haemon reaches the point where he stops growing pale with fear when I grow pale, stops thinking that I must have been killed in an accident when I am five minutes late, stops feeling that he is alone on earth when I laugh and he doesn’t know why—if he too has to learn to say yes to everything—why, no, then, no! I do not love Haemon!‖ (14)

―As for those three red-faced card players—they are the guards. One smells of garlic, another of beer; but they’re not a bad lot. They have wives they are afraid of, kids who are afraid of them; they’re bothered by the little day-to- day worries that beset us all. At the same time—they are policemen: eternally innocent, no matter what crimes are committed; eternally indifferent, for nothing that happens can matter to them. They are quite prepared to arrest anybody at all, including Creon himself, should the order be given by a new leader.‖ (17)

―Every kind of stillness. The hush when the executioner’s ax goes up at the end of the last act. The unbreathable silence when, at the beginning of the play, the two lovers, their hearts bared, their bodies naked, stand for the first time face to face in the darkened room, afraid to stir. The silence inside you when the roaring crowd acclaims the winner—so that you think of a film without a sound track, mouths agape and no sound coming out of them, a clamor that is not more than picture; and you, the victor, already vanquished, alone in the desert of your silence. That is tragedy.‖ (9)

―I’m simply powerless to act against this city’s law.‖ (11)

―I intend to give my brother burial. I’ll be glad to die in the attempt,– if it’s a crime, then it’s a crime that God commands.‖ (7)

―Isn’t a man’s right to burial decreed by divine justice? I don’t consider your pronouncements so important that they can just.overrule the unwritten laws of heaven.‖(12) ―These signs portend evil for Thebes; and the trouble stems from your policy. Why? Because our altars are polluted by flesh brought be dogs and birds, picking from Polynices’ corpse. Small wonder that the gods won’t accept our sacrifices.‖ (18)

Chapter 1 The opening scene in Antigone starts in the middle of a conversation between Antigone and her sister, Ismene. Antigone is convinced that it is her duty to bury Polynices, her brother, who is being left uncovered at the command of Creon, the king of Thebes. The play doesn't go into detail about Polynices- only that he was a traitor to Thebes and enemy of the city.

Ismene is unequivocally opposed to Antigone's plans, citing the king's law which forbids burial of the corpse. She does not believe, as Antigone does, that the king's command can be broken for religious reasons. But Antigone responds to her by saying, "...if it is a crime, then it's a crime that God commands."

After this discussion, the Chorus enters, glorifying in Thebes' recent victory against outside attack. Here it mentions Polynices briefly, exalting the Theban gods as well as Creon for their success.

Soon Creon enters, reiterating his command that anyone who buries Polynices will be put to death. He proclaims, "He's not to have a grave or any mourning. His corpse is to be left, a grim warning, pecked at by the birds and worried by the dogs. That is my policy. A malefactor mustn't have the same treatment as the loyal man."

Soon a guard enters, bringing bad news. It seems someone has tampered with the body, burying and blessing it as the Greek custom (and the gods) mandates. Creon grows suddenly enraged, blaming the guard for his lack of vigilance. Creon even goes so far as to suggest that the guard himself buried the corpse for money. Chapter 2 Soon the Chorus becomes agitated by this sudden upheaval. Not really knowing what to do, it naturally supports Creon, saying, "God and government ordain just laws; the citizen who rules his life by them is worthy of acclaim. But he that presumes to set the law at naught is like a stateless person, outlawed, beyond the pale."

Next, the guard returns to Creon with Antigone. He proclaims, "Here she is. She is the one,-- the one that did it. We caught her in the act."

Antigone admits her crime, confronting Creon on moral grounds. She asserts to the king, "Isn't a man's right to burial decreed by divine justice? I don't consider your pronouncements so important that they can just...overrule the unwritten laws of heaven."

What follows is a heated discourse between Antigone and Creon, in which both of them threaten the other with moral law. Here the crux of the play is confronted: whose law is greater: God's o man's?

Soon Ismene enters the scene, telling Creon that she shares equal responsibility for the crime. Ismene asks Creon for mercy on Antigone's behalf, since her sister is suppose to marry Haemon, Creon's son. But Creon is not persuaded, remaining stubborn in his judgment.

The Chorus senses impending disaster, seeing this fated day as a result of Oedipus' earlier crime. It remarks, "For once a family is cursed by God, disasters come like earthquake tremors, worse with each succeeding generation."

Next, Haemon attempts to convince his father, Creon, that his judgment is wrong. Yet Creon, again, is unyielding, saying that if he concedes to a woman, anarchy will sweep through all of Thebes. Order, he says, must be maintained by the king. Soon Haemon attacks his father, saying in anger, "Don't think you have a complete monopoly of the truth." At this time, the Chorus begins to withdrawal its support from Creon, admitting that both sides have valid arguments. Chapter 3 Creon carries through with his judgment, instructing the guards to bury Antigone alive. The Chorus takes pity on the young bride-to-be, admitting to the woman, "You tried to do the right thing by your brother. You stepped boldly towards the altar of Justice, but somehow stumbled. I fear you must suffer for your father's sins."

After Antigone is taken away, Teiresias, the blind prophet, is led onto stage by a young boy. In short, he refutes Creon's judgment, citing the fact that the city altar is tainted by Polynices' flesh, carried there by birds. Teiresias goes on to say that Haemon will die as well. Creon initially rejects Teiresias' warning, telling the old man that someone has paid him to say these things.

Soon, however, Creon realizes that indeed he has made a tragic mistake. He instructs his servants to dig Antigone out of her chamber, admitting to himself, "I shouldn't have tried being unorthodox. I'll stick by the established laws in the future."

A few moments later, messengers enter, informing Creon that his son, Haemon, has committed suicide, unable to deal with his father's murder of Antigone, his fianc�. When Eurydice, Creon's wife, learns the news of her son, she leaves the stage immediately. The Chorus is first to sense her future, but soon everyone realizes that she too has committed suicide, stabbing herself in the heart.

Creon now fully realizes the results of his actions, wishing for his own death. The Chorus sums up the entire theme of the play in its final word, concluding, "The greater your arrogance, the heavier God's revenge." It seems that the dreadful punishment of the gods has now been inflicted on the entire family. Character Profiles Antigone: Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus, niece of Creon, and fianc� of Haemon. She decides to violate Creon's edict by burying the corpse of her brother, Polynices. In the end, she becomes a martyr for her religious ideals. Chorus: The Chorus is present throughout the play, at first siding with Creon, but at the conclusion, finds fault in the king's judgment. Creon: Creon is the stubborn king of Thebes who demands death for Antigone after she buries Polynices. In the end, after losing his son and wife to suicide, he realizes his tragic error in judgment. Eurydice: She is the wife of Creon who kills herself after hearing of her son's suicide. Haemon: He is the son of Creon and fianc� of Antigone. When he is unable to dissuade his father from killing Antigone, he chooses to commit suicide. Ismene: Ismene is the sister of Antigone who hopes to convince her not to violate Creon's edict. Later, however, she comes to her sister's side. Polynices: He is the brother of Antigone who returns from exile and attempts to destroy Thebes before he is killed. Teriresias: He is the seer who predicts Haemon's death as the effect of Creon's immoral edict. Metaphor Analysis Chorus: The chorus symbolizes two distinct features of Greek society. First, it represents the prevailing tide of public opinion. At first, the chorus rejects Antigone's belief in divine justice over state justice, but by the end of the play, especially after being advised by Teiresias, the chorus changes positions and sides with Antigone. Secondly, Sophocles uses the chorus to symbolize the consciences of the characters. Sometimes the chorus seems to reveal the inner thoughts of Creon; other times, it reveals Antigone's logic. Also, the chorus is best able to state the views of the author, Sophocles. Toward the end of the play, when the chorus attacks arrogance, Sophocles himself comes very close to speaking to Athens, citing its arrogance as cause for potential problems. The birds/ravens: Teiresias cites the flesh-eating birds as signs that the gods' wrath is upon Thebes. Sightings of ravens and other birds were deeply significant in Greek culture; usually this was a sign from the gods, often the foreshadowing of tragedy. Theme Analysis

In Antigone, Sophocles asks the question, which law is greater: God's or man's. Sophocles votes for God (or more appropriately, the gods, since the early Greeks were polytheistic). He does this in order to save Athens from the moral destruction which seems eminent. Sophocles wants to warn his countrymen about hubris, or arrogance, because he knows this will be their downfall. Oedipus the King, the prequel to Antigone, expounds on the idea of hubris-that of Oedipus. In Antigone, the hubris of Creon is revealed.

In Antigone, God's judgment of man plays a key role in the battle between human and divine law. Though Creon, the king of Thebes, renders judgment on Antigone because she violates the state's law against burying her brother, God's justice proves to be much more powerful when Creon backs down at the end of the play and admits that his law is unjust.

To understand Antigone, it's important to know some basic beliefs of Hellenic people. When a corpse was not buried, but instead left uncovered to be eaten by birds and animals, the gods were insulted and made angry, since this was thought to be a supreme insult to the body's family. This is why Antigone feels it necessary to bury the body of her brother, who is a traitor to Thebes, but her blood nonetheless. Antigone presents her side when she proclaims, "Isn't a man's right to burial decreed by divine justice? I don't consider your pronouncements so important that they can just.overrule the unwritten laws of heaven."

Yet the Chorus espouses the other viewpoint when they warn, "God and the government ordain just laws; the citizen who rules his life by them is worthy of acclaim. But he that presumes to set the law at naught is like a stateless person, outlawed, beyond the pale." Yet Creon learns that his edict is wrong when Teiresius asserts that Thebes is falling apart because the altar to the gods is tainted with the flesh of Polynices, Antigone's dead brother. Now the Chorus turns on Creon, saying, "The greater your arrogance, the heavier God's revenge."

Also, the lesser theme of God's judgment being passed on through the generations of a family is revealed in Antigone. Indeed Antigone suffers not only because she elects to stand up for an ideal, but because her disastrous destiny is predicted by fate. Oedipus' sin has now haunted his daughter as well. The Chorus admits this, saying, "For once a family is cursed by God, disasters come like earthquake tremors, worse with each succeeding generation." Top Ten Quotes 1) Ismene, hoping to dissuade her sister: "I'm simply powerless to act against this city's law." 2) Antigone, defending her decision: "I intend to give my brother burial. I'll be glad to die in the attempt,-- if it's a crime, then it's a crime that God commands." 3) Chorus, here siding with Creon: "God and the government ordain just laws; the citizen who rules his life by them is worthy of acclaim. But he that presumes to set the law at naught is like a stateless person, outlawed, beyond the pale." 4) Antigone, speaking to Creon: "Isn't a man's right to burial decreed by divine justice? I don't consider your pronouncements so important that they can just.overrule the unwritten laws of heaven."

5) Chorus, highlighting the plague on Oedipus' family: "For once a family is cursed by God, disasters come like earthquake tremors, worse with each succeeding generation."

6) Chorus, sensing Antigone's future: "Look now at the last sunlight that sustains the one surviving root of Oedipus' tree,-- the sword of death is drawn to hack it down."

7) Teiresias, seeing the future and confronting Creon: "These signs portend evil for Thebes; and the trouble stems from your policy. Why? Because our altars are polluted by flesh brought be dogs and birds, picking from Polynices' corpse. Small wonder that the gods won't accept our sacrifices."

8) Creon, reversing his decision: "Can't fight against what's destined.I must personally undo what I have done. I shouldn't have tried being unorthodox. I'll stick by the established laws in the future."

9) Creon, realizing his mistake: ".by my stubbornness, oh my son, so young, to die so young, and all because of me."

10) Chorus, underscoring the theme of the play: "The greater your arrogance, the heavier God's revenge."